Review: Pac-man Championship Edition DX
The “score attack” games that once populated arcades throughout the world have nearly all been replaced by level up systems, achievements/trophies, and movie-like story telling from the comfort of home. But with the advent of Xbox Live, the Playstation Network, and app phones the quest for the highest score is making its return, and Pac-Man Championship Edition DX is leading the charge on PSN and XBLA.
DX is a lot like 2007’s Pac-Man Championship Edition but with a few extra features that make a world of difference. Like that game and the rest of the series your goal is to eat pellets, food, and ghosts in an attempt to beat the high score. Timed levels are back, with five and 10-minute Score Attack modes in which your goal is to get as high a score as possible within the time limit. Time Attack mode will have you collecting a set amount of apples within a specific time frame, though they won’t appear until you’ve eaten all the pellets on the screen first.
As always, ghosts will kill Pac-Man should they collide with him, but in DX there is an added slow down effect when you’re nearing your doom, giving you the chance to quickly move in a different direction and avoid what would have been an imminent death. There are also bombs. Pac-Man can lay a bomb down if he’s surrounded, bouncing the nearby ghosts back to the center respawning area. These two additions add a surprising freshness to an old formula and make it easier to continue to do well even when 30 ghosts are chasing you at full speed.
The game’s challenge comes from doing well, growing in difficulty the more you chow down without flaw, and in this way the game constantly adjusts itself with your skill level. Each time Pac-Man does a line of pellets an edible food item appears along that path, which when eaten refreshes the opposite side of the maze and repopulates it with more ghosts. As you eat more and more a greater number of ghosts appear, often sleeping until you wake them up by whizzing by. They’ll follow you in a Snake-like conga line waiting for you to make a wrong turn and get trapped between them and another napping ghost barring your way. The more ghosts on the screen the more intense the game gets, building your stress level as the dance-y techno-ish music speeds up with your progress. In fact, a speed meter tells you how fast the game is moving as you eat more and decreases as you lose a life or use bombs. The result of this is that DX brings the most satisfying game event I’ve encountered in a long time: eating 40+ ghosts in a row, as Pac-Man’s nom nom sound effect coincides with score points jumping higher and higher.
There are plenty of old-school nods thrown into the mix. The game’s initial loading screen is an old arcade graphics-style Pac-Man eating through a screen’s width of pellets. Map visuals can be customized to look like the arcade version, 8-bit, or more smooth and modern, and the graphics of Pac-Man and the ghosts themselves can also be altered.
As fun and addictive as DX is, arcade style games like this are built around the repetition of levels with only the obstacles changing. Each level is a different maze, more intricate than the last, and while they differ enough from each other to make one level harder than another you will never shake the feeling that they’re all largely the same with the same goals in mind. But this isn’t necessarily a problem. The five and 10-minute Score Attack modes, the varying Time Attack modes, Free mode (good for practice with 99 lives and bombs), and the Ghost Combo mode (in which you must eat as many ghosts as you can within the allotted time) more than make each level engrossing. You’ll have to learn every turn, anticipate where items will appear, and make smart use of the fact that moving all the way to the left or right will make you come out on the opposite side – especially in the dark versions of the levels in which only your immediate surrounding area is illuminated.
If you’re a score hunter, have a soft spot for old arcade games, or love to compete on leaderboards then Pac-Man Championship Edition DX may be the ultimate game for you. If you’re not generally a fan of those things, you may be surprised by just how addicting the game makes fighting for the highest score. Achievements/trophies will add extra incentive to get those extra million points, but the intensity of the game is what ultimately will keep you from blinking and breathing, and loving every second of it.